Sam Vicchiollo is normalizing conversations about mental health, one TikTok at a time
by Ashlyn Robinette
photos by Ethan McAlister
When 21-year-old Sam Vicchiollo pops up on my Zoom screen, he smiles at me. It’s the kind of smile that captivates you. It’s warm, inviting, and, most of all, genuine — something that Vicchiollo strives to be in all aspects of life, especially on social media.
At that moment, the sun hits the content creator’s modelesque face just right, and I immediately understand how he charmed an audience of 2 million and amassed nearly 150 million likes on TikTok. Vicchiollo just landed in Los Angeles, returning home from his sponsored trip to the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas. Despite sitting in California’s scorching summer sun and being eager to see his dalmatian, Evelyn, he doesn’t rush our conversation. Even though we’re strangers, Vicchiollo is an open book to me. Though I would soon learn that he’s the same way with the rest of the world.
Vicchiollo never intended on being an influencer. Like many, he downloaded TikTok in 2019 as a joke. But after his first video blew up, he got hooked on virality and soon became a social media star. However, unlike other influencers on the app, Vicchiollo doesn’t paint a picture-perfect life.
“I never want people to think that my life is perfect because it’s really not,” he says. “Everyone has things that they’re going through and things that they struggle with, and finding comfort in relating to someone helps a lot of people who follow me.”
Vicchiollo doesn’t use his platform to promote an unattainable lifestyle. Instead, he uses it to help others. Authenticity is key. Seeing every aspect of life, not just the good portions, is essential to understanding the full picture, Vicchiollo says. That’s why he updates his followers on his highs and his lows.
“Happiness isn’t easy,” he admits in a TikTok posted in March. “Happiness is glamorized every day on social media as something unattainable and you think to yourself, ‘if I don’t look like this, live in this apartment, have this lifestyle like this person does, how could I ever be happy?’”
Vicchiollo wants his followers to be happy, but he also knows that happiness is hard to achieve. People don’t really talk about it, but life isn’t always easy to live, he says. He hopes that being transparent online will normalize and generate open and honest conversations about mental health. Even if sharing everyday struggles only helps one person feel like they’re not alone, Vicchiollo will have made an impact on someone’s life and that’s all that matters to him.
While he enjoys being a relatable figure that others can look up to, Vicchiollo didn’t originally intend for his page to be that way. It wasn’t until last year, when he was going through the lowest point of his life, that Vicchiollo changed his content.
“I knew that in coming back [to TikTok] I didn’t want to just pop back on my page and pretend like nothing happened,” he says. “So many people struggle every day and, for me, watching other people on social media and knowing that I wasn’t alone because I could relate to them helped me so much. I knew that I wanted to be that person for other people too.”
In every phase of his TikTok career, whether that be posting thirst traps, comedic content, or mental health videos, Vicchiollo has aimed to make his viewers happy.
“I find happiness in making other people happy which is why social media plays such a big role in my life,” he says. “I’m glad that people can look up to me and find relatability in my content.”
While Vicchiollo is proud to showcase his full self on and off camera, it wasn’t always that way.
Growing up bisexual in a small town in Wisconsin was hard, he says. He endured bullying throughout middle school and high school, and, consequently, feared how people would react if he came out. So, Vicchiollo remained trapped in his conservative environment, unable to be his authentic self for years.
“Support is the biggest reason why I didn’t come out early or why I didn’t feel comfortable enough talking about it earlier,” he says. “I didn’t know if I would have that support. When I finally did, it made that process so much easier. I know that some people don’t have that luxury ... and I want to at least be a figure online that people can find support in. Watching other people visually be happy and be successful, and be everything that I told myself I would ever be, encouraged me to tear down barriers that I had set in my own mind of what I can and cannot be to finally become who I’m supposed to be.”
When Vicchiollo publicly came out last October, he felt liberated and at peace. He hopes his social media presence supports those who face similar struggles as he did. He wants his followers to know that the only opinion that matters is their own. Rather than letting others dictate how you live, Vicchiollo spreads a message that it’s OK to express yourself authentically, regardless of what others may think.
“I want to show people that it’s OK to go against the grain or what society tells you what you’re supposed to be,” he says.
No matter how Vicchiollo’s content may change in the future, one thing will remain the same — his relatability and support for others.
“I don’t think that life is a straight line,” he says. “Whether I am in a depressive episode or having the best time of my life, I’m glad that people can find comfort and relatability in me. I’m glad that I can share that with the world and take people along my journey.”